USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Colombian’
Proverbs

Colombian Proverb

Informant: Maria Clara Williamson. My mom who is originally from Colombia but has lived in Mexico City for 25 years.

Informant:

Original: “Al que madruga, a Dios le ayuda”

Translation: The one who rises early, God helps

Informant: “My mom was a firm believer in this saying. Every morning, she would tell me this as a constant reminder to persevere. Growing up in a Catholic household, I was taught not to complain and follow set values. My mother would often use my father’s determination as an example. By 6A.M. he had already showered, changed, and was ready for the day. “Your father’s success comes from rising early and having determination,” she would always say. Throughout my life, I have kept my mothers words with me and have really strived to follow it.”

Thoughts: This is probably the proverb I have heard the most throughout my life. My parents both mention it as they stress the importance of productivity. If one rises early there is so much more one can do with the day. Because religion is an important part of life in Latin America it makes sense that God is included in the saying.

folk simile
Folk speech
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic

“Hacer Conejo”-To Rabbit

“Hacer Conejo” – an expression meaning to bail out on the check at a restaurant incorporates folk simile, folk gesture and humor. Holding up two fingers (index and middle fingers in a spread out V) behind your head means you are thinking about doing “conejo” and lets the others in your group to get ready to run without paying the bill. It is also a way to freak out a friend who is still eating and scare them in to thinking you are about to bail out. When I asked my grand Aunt Marlly, who had married my Grandfather’s brother, she said she had never hear of the story and the expression that it sounded rather sordid. I realized that the story was attached to what social economic level you grew up in. My grand aunt came from an upper class family, while my Grandfather and all of his brothers came from a poorer lower class family where being able paying the bill was not always possible. My Grandmother came from an impoverish class that would never even think about eating in a restaurant in the first place, but she was aware of the expression and knew people who had gotten away with it. The trick was to be a very fast runner and not to have eaten too much.

Analysis: This folk simile, to my maternal grandfather, is more of a humorous gag expression, meant to scare or outrage the other diners you were with. Making the gesture is a way to get a point across without tipping your hand. I personal think is kind of funny, especially when I explain it to other people. In the U.S. the folk gesture of the rabbit ears made with the fingers has a different meaning and when I explain what it means in Colombia, I usually get a laugh or extreme fascination.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic
Magic
Musical
Protection

“Sana que sana” song

The folk song/chant: “Sana que sana, colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana.” (Magic healing song repeated at least three time or more if child is hysterical) The literal translation means “Heal, heal with the tail of a toad, if it does not heal today, it will heal tomorrow.” Obviously they are talking about a tadpoles tail or are being funny because a toad/frog does not have a tail, intonating something magical is about to occur. It works as a great distraction when your child gets injured and to stop him from crying because they are being imbued with the belief that the chant will actually make it hurt less especially if they say it in unison. Although my Grandfather tells me that the Chibcha Indians of Colombia, which he is a ¼, use dried out frog/toads all the time for healing and good luck and would even wear them around their neck (whole died out toad) for protection. He tells me that my mom went to Colombia at age 16 and she was given a necklace made out of small stones, which had a small, carved frog in the middle and was told to wear it for good luck and protection.

Analysis: Many frogs in Colombia have a variety of toxins, some medicinal, some deadly so there is more than simple folk belief there might be some factual basis for the song. Growing up my mother would always do the magical healing song “Sana que Sana” that her dad taught her whenever my brother or I got hurt and sprayed the area with Neosporin. She told me that when she was young, her grandmother (my great grandmother) who was a “botanica healer” would always sing the song while rubbing the injured area with some kind of balm. I do find the song soothing and silly at the same time, which is why it was probably so effective as a distraction. In terms of healing, the balm or Neosporin was probably what made it stop hurting and heal faster but rubbing an injury does stimulate endorphins to alleviate pain but the distraction is extremely helpful in stopping the blubbering and crying.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“En Casa de herrero”-Blacksmith Proverb

“En casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo” or “sartén de palo” or “cuchara de palo” translates to “in the house of the blacksmith his knives/spoons/pans are made of wood. An example of an English version, “In the shoe makers house, the children go barefoot” share the same point to be made. This is one of my Grandmother’s most commonly used proverbs. The second part of the saying, changes depending how strong the feeling you want the statement to convey. Obviously, if the hypocrisy/irony is so great, like a teacher’s child dropping out of high school, because the teacher spent so much time with their students, to the detriment of their own child, then you would say “Sartén de palo”, because having a frying pan made out of wood shows the greatest negligence in terms of an item a blacksmith could have in his home. If the harm were less, then you would say spoon, because a wooden spoon is not that bad. Wooden knife would be worse but not as bas as the wooden frying pan, because a frying pan would eventually catch on fire rendering it useless much like the teacher’s kid who drops out of high school.

Analysis: This is a Colombian proverb I hear often growing up about various family members and friends. Favorite Colombian past time is to tell stories about the misadventure of their friends and family. This kind of story telling is meant to be “teachable moments” so you do not repeat the mistakes of others. It is often told during dinner, which makes dinnertime a two-hour storytelling session because others would feel compelled to contribute similar examples relating to the proverb.

Legends
Narrative

“El Coco” and “La Mano”

Both my Grandparents say growing up they were told about the story of “El Coco” it was only when they came to the US was when they heard about El Cucuy from Mexican friends and El Cuco from Puerto Rican and El Salvadorian friends) The story is basically the same regardless of the source, El Coco lives under your bed, in your closet or in the darkest corner of you room — and he will come and get you if you misbehave. Or at least that’s what many Latino kids are told growing up, and in that way El Coco/Cucuy is the equivalent to the American bogeyman. This was confirm my by Mexican Aunt Anyssa and most of my Colombian relatives. There is a wonderful web site featuring the great bilingual storyteller Joe Hayes retelling legend of “El Cucuy” I highly recommend the web site: http://www.cincopuntos.com/products_detail.sstg?id=4
However, my Grandfather had a personal variation, called “La Mano” or “The Hand”. His own grandmother, Celestina, who was widowed and never spoke but lived with my Abuelo’s family, which consisted of his parents and six other siblings. She had been a healer and a seer. Story has it that she foresaw her husband’s death and started to buy mourning clothing one month before her husband died that she wore till she died. It was told that in her grief she had convinced the mortician to give her husband’s hand, which she allegedly kept under her bed in a box. My grandfather’s mom, Margarita, who after trying to get 7 kids to bed would often resort to the threat that if they did not go to sleep “La Mano” would come out from under Grandma’s Celestina’s bed and attack and choke them, so they should behave and be quiet so “La Mano” could not find them. The threat was very effective. One night My grandfather told me “he got up to get a drink of water he was trying very hard to be quiet when he heard a rattling sound coming from Grandma Celestina’s room, he stopped cold and felt cold sweat pour down his back as the rattling turned to scratching as if it was trying to scratch it way out. Suddenly the door pops open and no one is there but a small object was on the floor slowly moving toward him. He felt frozen to the ground and could not move or breath. He saw a couple of skeleton digits come into the moonlight and he was certain he was seeing “La Mano”. He ran back to his room, sandwiched himself in the middle of his two sleeping brothers, thinking if the hand came, it would get them first!  Even though my grandfather moved to another hemisphere and was living in Los Angeles, several decades after grandma Celestina had passed away, he came across a movie poster while waiting in line for The Empire Strikes Back (1980) for a horror movie called The Hand (1981) where a comic book artist loses his hand in a car accident and his hand is never found, The hand begins to follow the artist and kills anyone who angers the artist. Apparently, Grandfather almost fainted when he saw the poster but literally ran out of the movie theater when the trailer for “The Hand” began. He spent 20 minutes pretending to go to the restroom and buying everything the concession stand had to offer. He refused to sit anywhere but the aisle in case he had to bolt. He reported having nightmares for two weeks after, not about Darth Vader but about “La Mano”. As he was telling me about the legend, he became very pale , he kept clearing this throat and his voice quivered throughout.

Analysis: Urban Legends of things that hide in the dark to scare children into compliance seems to be a common universal theme. However, if they made a movie out of a hand hiding in the dark that can come and kill you, then maybe there is some kind of motif about hands that I am not aware of but one that does cross cultural lines.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Colombian New Year’s Rituals

Collected from mother and daughter Marlly Hernandez and Patty Moso during a Virgin Saturday brunch with an easter egg hunt for the kids.

There is a whole subset of rituals that are supposed to occur on New Years in Colombia if you want some particular outcomes. I gathered these from my Aunt Marlly and my cousin Patty:

  • At the stroke of midnight 12 green grapes that have been dropped in a flute of Champaign and are eaten at each stroke/dong to bring a on a lucky new year. The person who is most successful without choking on the grapes or have Champaign snort out of the nose will have the better lucky year. This ritual is the most common and followed in Colombia and the US. I always found it fun to watch because my grandfather and my mom were never successful but my grandmother always seem to be able to do it unless she starts talking, then grapes will go flying.
  • For those who want the coming year to be full of travel will place luggage outside of the front door. My mom was in Colombia for New Years and she said that it was not a matter of just leaving your bags outside the door but that you had take a walk around the block after midnight. Both my abuelos and my Aunt Nora also confirmed this although Patty and Marlly said it was not necessary. My mom said that taking the walk around the block was fun to see all the different colors and variety of luggage people were carrying around and a very social event as people talked about where they wished they could travel to in the coming year. This sounds like a ritual I wouldn’t mind trying, since I love to travel.
  • Crack open a raw egg in glass/bowl of water, place it under you bed New years eve and leave over night. This is done to absorb any bad things/luck that may happen in the coming year. In the morning you throw away the egg and water, which has now supposedly absorbed all potential negative energy ensuring a better year. I found this ritual kind of creepy for some reason I cannot personally identify.
  • Women are supposed to put on puts on yellow (good luck color) underwear inside out new years eve and at midnight they are supposed to turn their underwater they correct way for good luck. This is challenging because Champaign soaked grapes are supposed to be swallowed with each ring of midnight and a women would need to find a private place to change their underwear without flashing a group of party goers while allegedly chugging grapes. I found this the most bizarre of the rituals.
  • In Colombia paper maché handmade life size dolls dressed with old clothes and shoes and is burned to show the end of the old year to insure nothing especially negative events remains from the previous year. When cars go buy they will throw coins at the dolls to bring wealth. Smoke makes me asthmatic so I would not be very interested in participating in this ritual.
  • At New Years Parties after chugging grapes go around kissing everyone on both cheeks at the party and to verbally wish them a Happy New Year, this action is supposed to bring good blessings to everyone involved. Having being part of Colombian New Years parties here in the states, I can attest that this is not a voluntary ritual, you will be kissed and covered with gross amounts of lipstick all over you face by people you do not even know, not my favorite ritual.

Analysis: Rituals are common in Colombia because of its rich history of catholic, Afro-Caribbean and indigenous roots. With cultural appropriation and annexation sometimes rituals are the only things you can keep with you. Most of these rituals seem nonsensical and why there were done or where they originated seem to be a mystery, they are just rituals that are followed because they are mainly benign and you have nothing to lose but your dignity and hopefully a wonderful year ahead to gain, if you followed the rituals.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Pastuso Jokes

The following are jokes about people from a region of Colombia that is far removed from the capital of Bogota. They are known as Pastuso Jokes. They are usually very long like most Colombian jokes which usually follow long storytelling format so I picked 3 of the shortest to give a fair representation. These were repeated by my grand uncle at an Easter dinner and different ones are told at every gathering.

The Pastuso having just arrived in Bogota wanted to go to the market and was told that he could wait for the bus or walk there, he was given directions that said “go to the other side of the street and make a left at the corner and then walk two kilometers and the market will be on the right side of the street.” He waited for a while and no bus arrived but he saw a man on his front lawn, he went over to the man spoke to him and crossed the street again. Then still uncertain, he asked someone who was now waiting at the bus stop and asked “where is the other side of the street?” The man said “it right over there (pointing to the man on the lawn)” and the Pastuso said “but I was just over there and they told me the same thing.” (Insert laugh here)

A Pastuso went to the Capitol (Bogota), he was told by a someone who was from the capitol to remember that money calls to money – meaning those who have money seem to attract others with money so that a peasant from Pasto would largely be ignored- so not expect too much. But the Pastuso, never having been to the capitol was super excited because he thought of a plan. He went to the bank and exchanged all of his small bills (100 pesos) for the largest bill he could get (20,000 pesos) and then he went outside of the bank to wait for the bank to close. After the bank was closed for the day he shoved the 20,000 peso bill under the door of the bank holding it by the corner, hoping the bill would call out to the other bills in the bank. But a gust of wind came and he lost grip of the bill and it was sucked into the bank. The Pastuso stood up scratching his head and said “I guess all those bill in the bank called out to my bill more loudly.” (Insert laugh here)

A Pastuso went to the store to buy a poncho, and asked the storeowner how do I put on the poncho” The store owner looked at the Pastuso and said “just open up the poncho and put your head through the hole, easy.” So the Pastuso went home and spread out the poncho on the floor and jumped head first into the hole. (Insert laugh here)

Analysis: The last one is my favorite because it is actually the most translatable and therefore the funniest. My grand uncle Arturo loves telling “Pastuso” Jokes They are the American equivalent to dumb blonde jokes or Polish Jokes. Pasto is a city in the southern most regions of Colombia near the boarder of Ecuador nestle in the Andean Mountain range, making the city very isolated. The people who live there are mostly peasants and uneducated blue color workers. Probably because of its isolation more than the average IQ score, they have been the targets of jokes that exemplify extreme acts of stupidity. The distance from the Capitol does make Pastusos appear to be more provincial especially when they come to the big city. These jokes seem funnier in Spanish, especially when drinking vast amounts of alcohol. A lot is lost in translation.

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